Unbelayvable: Belayer Snack Breaks And Prusik Perils

Scary (and true) tales from a crag near you

Every Monday we publish the most unbelievable stories of climbing stupidity submitted by our readers. See something unbelayvable? Tell us in the comments and your story could be featured in a future edition online or in print.

Two hands good, no hands bad.
Photo: hkanins/Flickr. http://ow.ly/x1gjk

>>I was climbing in El Potrero Chico when I overheard a couple nearby setting up for Graphite and Glitter (5.8) “Have you ever belayed with a grigri?” “No.” His lesson was going well until he got to catching a fall. “If I’m climbing up the wall and I fall, YOU JUST LET GO!” He punctuated this by raising his open palms to the sky.
Submitted by Craig Childre, via email

LESSON: No. Don’t let go. The grigri is not an auto-braking device, it’s an assisted braking device. While the grigri will lock automatically in most situations, there are a few scenarios where it will not: 1) with super-skinny ropes; 2) an extremely light climber; 3) routes with bulges or significant rope drag that reduce the forces of a fall; and 4) hanging on the rope (versus falling) mid-route. Furthermore, holding your hand in the brake position helps the grigri’s cam engage rapidly. Never take your hand off the brake strand. Even if the grigri did brake automatically 100% of the time, it would be a bad habit to get into for those times when you're belaying with a tube-style device. For more info, check out Learn Proper Techniques For Grigri Use.

>>Some friends saw this in the Gunks: A climber was leading a route. He got to a good ledge for his hands. The belayer asked, “Are you solid?” The climber responded, “Yes. I’m solid.” Then the belayer unclipped his belay device and went to get a snack as his climber was shaking out.
Submitted by NJ Climbing Staff, via climbing.com

LESSON: There's only one scenario where it's OK to take your climber off belay, and that's if your climber yells "off belay." As a climber, you should never allow your belayer to take you off belay unless you're clipped direct into an anchor or on the top of the cliff, far away from the edge. Don't allow your belayer to put your life in danger because they want a Snickers bar. It doesn't matter how bomber the jugs you're holding are. They can wait an extra five minutes for you to get to the top of your pitch.

>>I was climbing at Reimer’s Ranch near Austin, TX, and I saw a climber about to rap off of an easy route. The problem was that he had only pulled 10 feet of rope through the anchor and the climb was 50 feet high (no knots in the ends of the rope, obviously). He was about five feet from the end of the short strand when I saw him and screamed for him to stop. I told him what the problem was, but he explained that it was fine because he had backed up his rappel with a prusik. I convinced him to clip in direct to a bolt and get both ends of the rope on the ground before he continued. He did it, but he still had no clue what was going on. He thanked me an hour later after his friends explained it to him.
—Submitted by Adam, via Climbing.com

LESSON: Prusiks are a great tool for backing up rappels. In the case of lost grip—due to injury from rockfall, lightning, or simple fatigue or pilot error—the knot will lock, keeping you from sliding down the rope. They do not prevent your from rapping off the end of the rope. In the situation above, the end of the rope would slide right through the prusik, then through the rappel device, and the climber would fall to the ground. Knotting the ends of the rope would prevent a fall (and should always be done), but would still leave the climber stuck 40 feet off the deck. That's not great, either. Had the climber taken the time to center his rope in the anchors and ensure both ends reached the ground before beginning, he wouldn't need to depend on his backup systems in the first place, which is always the most desirable scenario. For more info, check out this article about friction hitches.

See something unbelayvable?
Tell us in the comments and your story could be featured in a future edition online or in print.


Previous Comments

Driving up Boulder Canyon in the time before cell phone cameras, I nearly drove into the creek at The Mental Block. TMB had been set up with a "top rope" and was being ascended by a corpulent man and his partner, both dressed in jeans and sneakers. They had set up the TR using several lengths of a bed sheet twisted into a rope, knotted every dozen feet or so, and passing through a large pulley that was draped over the top of TMB. We observed nothing of note on our return from Animal World, so the two must have at least escaped with their bodies intact. There is no end to the Unbelayvable.

Richard M. Wright - 06/06/2014 2:30:58

Gorges du Verdon, France is a beautiful canyon with 1000ft walls where you start the climbing by doing 3 to 5 rappels and the only way out is climbing back up. Its a famous place and the few rappel routes tend to be crowded in the weekends. I was waiting in line and in front of me was a party of 5 climbers rappeling. The most experienced climber rappel first. Then the next guy comes and I notice something strange about his ATC. He clipped the rope through the ATC with a locking binner in the proper place, but then, another separate binner clipped to the little wire in the ATC to his harness. I tell him "Hey, this little wire may not even hold your body weight." He stares at me with a blank face and says "Ah, thats fine, I always did it like that, never had a problem." and proceeds the rappel. The only thing connecting him to this world was a tiny piece of wire that wasn't designed to support any weight. Number f**s given that day: zero.

felipe - 06/01/2014 11:23:02

I was climbing with a few new climbing friends last night. Everything I saw about their sport climbing rope techniques and climbing ability led me to believe they were safe, knowledgeable, experienced climbers. Me and one of the guys had climbed up to set up a top rope rappel to the chains, buddy is half way down the ledge and realizes his belay device ( no prussik... ) is twisted. He proceeded to un-clip while holding on to the rope and try to fix it. Single handedly while standing on an 80 degree slope at the top of a 30M cliff. Meanwhile was flipping shit. He was laughing the whole time and did manage to get the rope straight and clip in safely....

Tanner Klassen - 05/23/2014 12:49:39